Whodunit: Crashing into a seriously cold case
In Peter Lovesey’s latest Peter Diamond mystery, a wrecking ball exposes something completely unexpected during a home renovation: a remarkably intact skeleton dressed in clothing from the 18th century. Beau Death derives its title from speculation that the skeleton may be the remains of noted gadabout Beau Nash, one of the most famous historical denizens of Bath, England. The clothes are certainly suitable for the age’s most notorious dandy, and then the autopsy results come in: death by stabbing. Despite the age of the crime, both these results and the concealment of the body trigger a new investigation into what may be the defining case of Diamond’s career, and easily the coldest. Or is it all a big hoax, with a much more contemporary corpse than first suspected playing the key role? One thing is certain: Lovesey’s signature understated humor, often historical and at times hysterical, finds its way onto pretty much every page.
Siglufjörður is a small fishing village near the northernmost tip of Iceland. In Ragnar Jonasson’s newest crime novel, Nightblind, the murder rate in the village has started to garner some attention, having become rather disproportionate to the minuscule population of 1,300. Set about five years after the closing of his debut, Snowblind, Jonasson’s latest finds officer Ari Thór Arason investigating the murder of a colleague that took place in the boondocks of an already remote country. As is normal in any police procedural, several cases compete for Officer Arason’s attention. Further complicating matters is the fact that the seemingly endless Scandinavian winter is approaching, with its long hours of darkness threatening to obscure whatever meager clues there are to be found. Jonasson’s book offers a nod to the locked-room mystery popularized by Agatha Christie; in a town the size of Siglufjörður, there are a limited number of suspects, motives and opportunities. This is a unique Nordic noir of the first order.
MAN ON A MISSION
Harry Dolan can be counted on to craft seamless thrillers, and his latest, The Man in the Crooked Hat, featuring dogged detective Jack Pellum, does nothing to break his streak. Pellum is a man obsessed. Two years back, his wife was strangled to death, and the killer has never been identified. Pellum subsequently left the police force and became a private investigator, with himself as his primary client. He means to find the man in the fedora who was loitering around his neighborhood shortly before his wife’s murder, the man he is sure (albeit perhaps irrationally) is responsible. And when Pellum’s former partner passes along some information regarding a recent case, there are similarities too striking to ignore. A writer who committed suicide shortly after his own wife’s death has left a cryptic message painted on the wall: “There is a killer, and he wears a crooked hat.” Pellum, reinvigorated by this news, attacks his investigation with renewed fervor, but the more he chips away, the more he begins to realize that he has exposed only the tiniest tip of the iceberg.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series has been a mainstay of my personal and professional reading list for years now, and his latest, Fools’ River, ups his always high-level game. For those unfamiliar with the series, Poke is the Bangkok-based author of a series of counterculture travel books. He’s got a knack for unearthing trouble, and on the odd occasion when he cannot find trouble, it finds him. This time out, his adopted Thai daughter, Miaow, has a friend who hopes to elicit Poke’s help in finding his missing father. The dad in question, something of a ladies’ man, has a small harem of “aunties” with whom he spends his time, but none of them has seen him in several days. To make matters worse, burglars have broken into the family home and stolen checkbooks and credit cards, suggesting that the father is being held hostage somewhere while his accounts are systematically drained. As has been the case with all the Poke Rafferty books, I am only able to scratch the surface of the plot here. Masterful subplots and nuances abound in Fools’ River, and the relationships between Poke and his Thai family and friends lend a unique angle to this series that will inspire readers to consider booking the next flight to Bangkok.
This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.